Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has apologized for insulting Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke on his radio show earlier this week.
In a statement published on his website, Limbaugh said: "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke ... My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices."
The apology comes after several sponsors had pulled their patronage of Limbaugh's program as a result of the controversy.
Fluke testified before a House committee this week in support of President Barack Obama’s policy requiring most companies to provide free birth control.
Fluke said her friend at Georgetown University needs birth control pills to prevent ovarian cysts. She also testified that without insurance, the pill can cost more than $3,000 a year.
On his national radio show Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh told his audience that providing Fluke with birth control coverage would make all Americans her “johns”.
Thursday, Democratic leaders demanded an apology from Limbaugh. Instead, he stepped up the attack. He called Fluke by name and said the following:
“If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. And I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we all can watch.”
In an exclusive interview with NBC News Thursday night, Fluke called Limbaugh’s attacks “inappropriate” and “outside of public discourse”.
“This is historically, the kind of language that is used to silence women, especially when women stand up and say that there reproductive health care needs and this is what they need,” said Fluke.
On the Today Show Friday morning, the law student pointed out that Limbaugh's comments on women's health care come at the start of Women's History Month.
She said the radio hosts comments are an indication of a larger cultural attitude.
"It's a very important thing for us to think about, that in our society, in certain sectors, this is evidently still acceptable," Fluke said on the Today Show, "and that's just very problematic."
Fluke said she believes that at the core, the issue of contraception is not a matter of government intervention or religious freedom, but one of women's health. "This is about accessible, affordable access to a basic health care service that prevents medical disasters and unplanned pregnancies."
The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican effort to roll back President Barack Obama's policy on contraception insurance coverage. The 51-48 vote killed an amendment that would have allowed employers and insurers to opt out of portions of the president's health care law they found morally objectionable.
The president called Fluke on Friday afternoon. According to White House press secretary Jay Carney, the president offered Fluke his support, expressed to her disappointment about the attacks she had suffered in the media, and thanked her for exercising her rights as a citizen to speak on policy.
Speaking to MSNBC Friday, Fluke said President Obama told her to tell her parents that they should be proud.
On Friday afternoon, John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, a Catholic and Jesuit university, released a statement condemning Limbaugh's statements as "misogynistic" and "vitriolic." The university president also offered Fluke high praise.
"She provided a model of civil discourse," DeGioia wrote. "This expression of conscience was in the tradition of the deepest values we share as a people. One need not agree with her substantive position to support her right to respectful free expression."
Fluke noted to News4's Shomari Stone Friday that the regulation does not require religious institutions to pay for contraception.
"They don't have to contribute financially at all to contraception," she said. "It requires insurance to provide it, and that protects the women who go to school there and who work there, and really you should have access to health care no matter where you study, no matter where you work, and when we're talking about student plans, universities never contributed financially."
But on Friday, Limbaugh did not back down. From the transcript of his Friday broadcast:
"So the woman comes forth with this, frankly, hilarious claim that she's having so much sex (and her buddies with her) that she can't afford it.
And not one person says, "Well, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have? Do you ever think maybe it's your responsibility for your own birth control, not everybody else's?"
Michael Steel, spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner, told NBC News the Ohio lawmaker did not approve of the radio host's language. "The speaker obviously believes the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation." Steel was referring to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has started a campaign characterizing the debate over women's contraception as "the Republican War on Women."